Adapting Your Home
Services and equipment to help you stay living at home, this will make you feel the comfort being at home and enjoying each and everyone’s company.
Information and advice you need to help you love later life.
We’re Age UK and our goal is to enable older people to love later life.
We are passionate about affirming that your later years can be fulfilling years. Whether you’re enjoying your later life or going through tough times, we’re here to help you make the best of your life.
This information guide has been prepared by The Leading Care Company and contains general advice only, it should not be relied on as a basis for any decision or action and cannot be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. The Leading Care Company Neither nor any companies mentioned in this article accepts any liability arising from its use and it is the reader’s sole responsibility to ensure any information is up to date and accurate.
This article about Adapting Your Home Cover the following
- What this guide is about
- Access to your home
- Answering the door
- Moving around your home
- Getting up and downstairs
- Getting up and dressed
- Washing, bathing and using the toilet
- In the kitchen
- Living with sight problems
- Living with hearing loss
- Combined hearing and sight loss
- Living with memory loss
- I need some help at home – what should I do?
- Paying for equipment and adaptations
- Home Improvement Agencies and handypersons
- Gifted Housing
- Moving to more suitable accommodation
- Useful organizations
What this article is about?
We all want to stay in our own homes for as long as possible. It’s a big part of retaining our independence. But sometimes, as we get older, it can be harder to manage, perhaps because of health problems, disability or bereavement. The good news is that by making some simple changes to our homes and the way we live in them, we can stay independent for longer.
This guide looks at some of the changes you can make, the equipment available and the help you may get from your local council’s social services department. It explains how these changes can help you maintain your independence and stay living at home safely.
As far as possible, the information in this guide is applicable across the UK.
In this guide, where we refer to a local council social services department in England and Slough, we intend this also to refer to a social work department in Berkshire and local health and social care trust.
Access to your home
If you’re having difficulty getting in and out of your property, there are ways to make it easier to gain access.
If you find it difficult to climb steps up to the door, you could have a rail installed. This could either be a metal rail attached to the ground (usually set into concrete), which may be up to a few meters long, or a smaller grab rail at the door to help you step over the threshold safely. If you have space, you could have shallower steps built as well.
If you’re a wheelchair user, you may need to have a ramp installed to enable you to reach your front door. This could require some alterations to the porch or front step if you have one. Outdoor ramps have to meet a number of design standards to ensure that they offer a safe means of access in all weather conditions.
A portable ramp could be a solution if you only have a small step and there is someone else present who can install and then remove it after use. Sometimes it’s not safe or practical to install a ramp, particularly if there isn’t much space around the door or if it would be too steep. In those cases, a wheelchair lift may be a good alternative.
An outdoor light that automatically switches on from dusk to dawn, or one with a motion detector that lights up the path when you approach your front door, will help you get about safely outside after dark. Position it so that when the light is triggered it won’t disturb your sleep or annoy your neighbors.
If you rent, you may need your landlord’s permission to make these changes. If you have shared access, you may need your neighbor’s consent.
Answering the door
If it’s difficult to get to the front door when someone calls, there are various options.
- install a door-entry intercom
- get an easy-to-fit wireless doorbell that comes with an entry phone you can keep near your chair
- choose a video entry phone so you can see who is at the door – some video entry phones allow you to press a button to open the door from where you’re sitting.
There are other options to allow friends, relatives and carers access without having to answer the door yourself.
Consider getting a police-approved key safe, where the key is held in a secure box at the front door that can only be opened by someone who knows the code. Make sure you consider any safety and security issues before getting one.
You can get a ‘bogus caller’ button installed. Pressing it will connect you to a telecare operator who you can talk to if you’re concerned about who is at your door.
See our free guide Staying safe for more information about keeping safe and secure in your home.
Moving around your home
If you’re having difficulty moving around your home, it’s important to think about lighting, trip hazards and whether you have space to move around safely.
Good lighting can help you get about easily and safely indoors. A remote-control light that works with a motion sensor to switch the light on automatically when you get out of bed or enter a room may be useful. Or you may prefer to get a touch lamp that comes on when you touch the base so you don’t have to feel for the switch or button.
If you use a wheelchair, do you have enough space to manoeuvre around each room and between rooms? It may be possible to widen the door frame or to re-hang the door so that it swings in the opposite direction and does not block your way. In certain circumstances a wall can be taken down or moved to provide a larger turning circle in a room.
If you need all your essential facilities on one floor, you could consider creating an extension to your home. This may require planning permission. Talk to a qualified professional, such as a surveyor or an architect, to confirm the safety and appropriateness of a major adaptation to a property.
Getting up and downstairs
If you have trouble getting up and downstairs, an extra banister rail or a stairlift might make it easier.
Different types of stairlifts have features to suit different needs, such as:
- a swivel seat to help you get safely on and off
- specially adapted controls, for example, to help your grip
- safety features to make sure the stairlift stops if something blocks its movement.
If a second banister rail or a stairlift isn’t suitable for you, it may be possible to install a through-floor wheelchair lift. These are large pieces of equipment so the size and layout of your home will affect what adaptations are possible.
Contact your local council for an assessment of your needs to see whether you are able to get financial help for a stairlift. You can also buy a stairlift yourself. Contact the Disabled Living Foundation or Rica for information on choosing products for older and disabled people. Handicare* provides and manufactures stairlifts specifically for people in later life in association with the Age UK Trading CIC. Call Handicare free on 0800 228 9609 or visit www.ageukstairlifts.co.uk for more information.
Getting up and dressed
Getting in and out of bed, or getting up from a chair, can become difficult in later life. The height of a piece of furniture greatly affects how easy it is to get on and off it – the lower it is, the more difficult you may find it. ‘Raisers’ can be fitted to beds and chairs to increase their height. You can also get powered riser-recliner chairs and specialist beds that raise you into a position where you can stand, or lower you to sit or lie down.
There are many different types of equipment, so you may need professional advice if you have complex needs. If you need help getting up and dressed, ask the council for an assessment of your needs to see if you’re eligible for help. The council can also give you information about sources of assistance in your area.
If you need a carer to help you with turning, repositioning or moving from one place to another, there’s equipment that can help. This includes hoists, transfer boards, and slide sheets. It’s important to get a professional assessment and training should be provided before this kind of equipment is used, to avoid injury to you or to the person moving you.
Simple equipment can make it easier to get dressed – such as a long-handled shoehorn or gadgets to assist with putting on tights or socks and assist with doing up buttons. If you find it difficult to bend, easy-reach grabbers can help you safely pick up items that may have fallen to the floor. Your local pharmacy may stock these types of items.
Washing, bathing and using the toilet
Loss of mobility and balance can make it difficult to wash and bathe or to use the toilet. However, there’s a range of equipment and adaptations that may help such as:
- a battery-powered bath lift with a seat or platform that can be lowered to support your weight as you get into the bath and raised to help you get out
- a bath with a side opening so you can get in and out without having to climb over the side
- a ‘wet room’ or level-access shower
- a wall-mounted sink set at the right height for someone who is using a wheelchair or a mobile shower seat
- a special safety plug that only allows water to reach a certain level
- a flood detector that alerts a monitoring center if the bath or sink starts to overflow
- a ‘hands-free’ toilet with automatic washing and drying function while you are still seated.
You can also get items to help with washing and bathing if your mobility is limited, such as long-handled sponges or foot-cleaning bath mats to save you bending down.
In the kitchen
Preparing food can be fiddly and potentially risky, but there are lots of adaptations and equipment to make cooking and preparing food easier and safer. You could try:
- a perching stool, which is designed to allow a near-standing position while supporting you at the same time
- spike boards to allow one-handed vegetable cutting or peeling
- kettle tippers if you find the kettle too heavy to tilt up
- wide-handled cutlery
- high rimmed plates and two-handled cups
- assistive tin, bottle and jar openers
- a sturdy trolley to support mobility and help you move food and drink from room to room.
To make your kitchen wheelchair-accessible, install adjustable-height work surfaces and a shallow basin and draining board with space underneath to allow you to carry out tasks while seated. Cupboards of accessible height with shelves that can be pulled out could also be useful.
To help you stay safe when you’re at home on your own you can get telecare gas detectors and carbon monoxide detectors that are linked to a monitoring center. If the detectors sense unsafe levels of gas or carbon monoxide they raise an audible alarm with a flashing light and also send an alert to the staff at the center who will get help. You can get a telecare smoke detector that works in the same way. Some gas detectors can automatically turn off the gas at the mains as soon as a leak is detected.
Telecare services use simple technology to support your wellbeing and help you stay living independently at home for longer. They can offer you and your family and friends reassurance and peace of mind that you’re safe, while still maintaining your privacy and independence.
Telecare offers support in a variety of ways. It can remind you of tasks you need to do, such as taking your medication, or it can alert a carer or the emergency services if you might need help, for example after a fall.
The best-known telecare service is a personal alarm. Personal alarms allow you to call for help if you’re unwell or have a fall and can’t reach a telephone. You press a button on a pendant you wear around your neck or as a wrist band. This will connect you to a call center, where you can talk to someone who will summon help if necessary.
Other types of telecare involve sensors installed in your home that automatically detect if something is wrong. For example, a pressure mat on your mattress can tell if you’ve been out of bed for a long time and automatically send an alert in case you’ve fallen. These alerts can go directly to your emergency contact or to a response center who will contact someone you have nominated – a carer, warden, friend, family member or emergency services.
Other types of telecare services include:
- a discreet fall detector is worn around your neck, waist or wrist that automatically detects if you’ve fallen and alerts your chosen contact
- a motion detector that can tell if you haven’t moved about for a long period, or can gradually turn on the lights when you get out of bed
- a mattress sensor that can send a message to a carer for assistance if the bed becomes wet
- a sensor that alerts you or your family if the temperature in your home goes up or drops rapidly.
Ask your GP, social worker, occupational therapist or local council for more information about the range of telecare services available and whether any costs apply.
Telehealth systems can help you if you’re living with a longterm health condition at home. It allows you to monitor your health without having to keep visiting your GP.
For example, you can get a monitor that helps you measure your blood pressure or blood sugar levels and sends the results directly to your GP. If you use a telehealth system it will always be with the support of a healthcare professional. Ask your GP about what is available in your area.
If you get any medical equipment on loan, you may need to check that it’s covered by your home insurance policy, as not all insurance policies will cover loss of or damage to medical equipment that’s on loan.
Living with sight problems
Most of us experience some degree of sight loss as we get older. It’s important to have your eyes tested regularly to identify any deterioration as soon as possible.
Increasing the level of natural light entering your home can help to make the most of your sight. Check whether artificial lighting is appropriate for your needs too. Could you change the color scheme in your home to make things easier to see? Colored tape can help to differentiate the edges of stairs and other borders.
Trailing wires and loose carpets, broken handrails or general clutter can be a hazard. If you need help with repairs or removing risks in your home contact a Home Improvement Agency or a handyperson service.
There is a wide range of equipment and new technology available to help people with sight problems. These include putting raised markings on appliance controls, clocks with high-contrast or tactile faces, talking watches and telephones with large, clearly marked buttons. The RNIB provides information on what is available, how to get hold of useful items and advice on living with sight problems.
Living with hearing loss
Many of us experience some degree of hearing loss as we grow older. If you have hearing loss, there’s a wide range of equipment and technology available to help. Devices to alert you visually to things you may not be able to hear, such as doorbells and smoke alarms that flash, are particularly important in the home. You may want to get wireless smoke alarms fitted. These connect using radio signals so that if one goes off, they all do. You can buy versions of these that use vibrating pads, which can be put under your pillow at night, to get your attention. For expert advice on alarms, contact your local Fire and Rescue service.
Telephones are an important way of keeping in touch with people and of summoning help in an emergency. There are voice-based and text-based options available. You can also get a sounder beacon installed which flashes and makes loud signals when a telephone or any sensor is activated. What works best for you will depend on your needs.
Combined hearing and sight loss
Many people in later life experience loss of both sight and hearing. For information on the particular issues raised by combined hearing-and-sight loss or deafblindness and suggestions on how to maintain your independence, contact Sense.
Living with memory loss
As we get older, we may experience memory problems that can make it more difficult to carry out daily tasks. Here are some suggestions for how you can use new technologies to help with things such as organizing your day and remembering where you’ve put your belongings. You might find that a family member or carer can help to set up some of these reminders for you.
If you have a mobile phone, use the calendar in it as a memory aid. For example, you can add that you have an appointment on a certain day and choose when you want to be reminded. Your phone will beep to remind you.
Use an item locator so you can easily find things such as your keys or purse. You attach small tags to the things you want to be able to find them if you lose them, you press a button on the locator and the tag will beep and flash to help you find the missing item.
Get a digital speech recorder and player to remind you about things you need to do at the time you need to do them. For example, you could set it to remind you that there are sandwiches in the fridge for you at lunchtime.
If you tend to forget what day of the week it is, consider getting a calendar clock that shows you the day, date and time.
A talking photo album could help if you enjoy looking at photos but sometimes forget on which occasions they were taken. You record a short message about each photo that plays for you when you press a button for that photo in the album.
If you worry about getting lost and you want to let someone you trust know you’ve gone out and where you are, consider getting a personal locator. These are devices that use GPS technologies to tell a trusted person your exact location. It can be linked to your mobile phone or you can carry a separate device with you.
If you feel that your memory loss is becoming more of a problem, contact your GP.
I need some help at home – what should I do?
If you think you could benefit from some adaptations to your home and want support from social services, contact the adult social services department of your local council. Explain that you need some help at home and ask for a care assessment (also known as a needs assessment) to assess your needs. There’s no charge for a care assessment and you’re entitled to one regardless of your age or your income and savings.
The assessor should take into account any health or housing requirements and contact any other health and social care professionals who need to be involved in your assessment and care. The assessment should reflect your needs and wishes as well as considering any support which would prevent you from needing more significant help in the future. If you have a carer, their needs and opinions should also be taken into account. After the assessment, a care plan should be agreed on, written out and a copy given to you.
Your local council uses a set of criteria to assess your level of needs. If your needs are considered ‘eligible’, the council will have a duty to offer you help and support. This may include specialist equipment, home adaptations, support with domestic tasks, personal care, and your wider wellbeing needs; all intended to help you carry on living independently and safely in your home for as long as possible. Specialist equipment and home adaptations may be provided as part of a package of care, which could, for example, include regular visits from home carers.
Even if you find out that you’re not eligible for help from the council, they still have a duty to give you information and advice about services or equipment that could help you. If you want to buy the equipment yourself, some high street retailers and pharmacies sell a range of products to make living at home a bit easier. Prices will vary so it’s worth shopping around or looking on the internet. The Disabled Living Foundation is a good source of information on mobility products or other types of daily living equipment for older and disabled people. They also have a helpline.
Paying for equipment and adaptations
If you need some equipment or adaptations to your home, you may be concerned about how to pay for them. Some equipment and adaptations may be provided by your local council and you could be eligible for a Disabled Facilities Grant for larger adaptations. Equity release could also be a consideration if you don’t qualify for other help.
Free equipment and minor adaptations from your local authority
Once you have had your care needs assessment, the local authority will make recommendations on what equipment, adaptations, care and support you need.
In England, specialist disability equipment is provided free of charge if it is recommended by the local authority after your assessment. An example of this could be the provision of a mobile hoist to enable safe assisted transfers in and out of bed.
If the local authority recommends that you need minor adaptations to your home that cost less than £1,000, these are also provided and fitted free of charge. They might include grab rails, short ramps, dropped curbs, lever taps or external lighting.
See our free factsheet Disability equipment and home adaptations for further information.
If the local authority decides after your care assessment that you don’t have any eligible needs, they won’t provide you with any equipment or adaptations. However, your local authority must still give you free information and advice, for example, about where to buy equipment. You can also ask private agencies or local voluntary organizations what they offer. If you want to get advice from a private occupational therapist, contact the College of Occupational Therapists.
Disabled Facilities Grants to help with major adaptations
For larger adaptations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, you may qualify for a Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG). They can be used to cover a wide range of adaptations that enable you to get in and out of your home, move around and use your facilities.
Both homeowners and tenants can get a DFG. It’s means-tested and there’s an upper limit on the amount you can get, although local authorities may agree to top this up in some circumstances. If you’re a council tenant, the council should pay for major adaptations that you’ve been assessed as needing.
Boost your income
Equity release can be a way to release some spare cash or to fund repairs or adaptations. You borrow money against the value of your home but pay nothing back until after your home is sold – either after your death or when you go into long-term care. Alternatively, you can raise money by selling your home or part of it, but continue to live in it until you die or go into long-term care.
It’s a big decision and you are strongly advised to consider all your options before deciding. If you think equity release would be the best option for you, make sure you get advice from a fully qualified, experienced equity release adviser before taking out a plan.
See our free guide Equity release for more information.
Home Improvement Agencies and handypersons
Some HIAs also run a handyperson scheme for help with small repairs, such as fitting rails to prevent falls. There may be a handyperson service in your area even if you don’t have an HIA – ask your local council.
If you own your home and are having problems managing it but do not want to move, you may want to consider the Age UK Gifted Housing scheme. Under this scheme, you donate your property to Age UK and, in return, Age UK takes responsibility for maintaining it, and pays Council Tax, water charges, and property insurance. The Gifted Housing Service also provides a Care Co-ordinator and Housing Manager who will give you support, help you to arrange care and support at home if you need it and help you decide on future care and housing options. This established service gives an alternative to people in later life who may not have a close family and want to remain in their own homes for as long as possible.
Make sure that you take professional, independent advice first, and that you consider what would happen if there was a change in your personal circumstances.
Moving to more suitable accommodation
If you’re finding it difficult to manage at home and it isn’t possible to make adaptations, you may need to consider moving to a more suitable home. There are different options but your choices may be determined by your current housing or financial situation. If you’re a council or housing association tenant, you could apply for a transfer to more suitable accommodation, such as sheltered housing. If you’re a homeowner, you may want to think about selling your home and simply downsizing, going into residential care or purchasing specialist accommodation.
Talk to friends and family about your plans and get independent advice if you need it. If you have a disability, ask your local council for an assessment to help you with your re-housing needs. An occupational therapist will usually visit your property and write a report with specific recommendations for your re-housing needs. The report will be for your use and also, if appropriate, for the use of the local council or housing association.